Al-Jazeera Under Fire For Its Coverage Of Egypt
The past two weeks in Egypt have been a real test for the TV network Al-Jazeera. Accusations that the network is biased toward the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi have resulted in arrests, threats and resignations.
On the last day of June and the first days of July, as millions of Egyptians took to the streets to call for Morsi's downfall, Al-Jazeera was there.
The network's Live Egypt channel went to a split screen. The pro-Morsi areas of Cairo were almost always shown as full. The anti-Morsi areas were shown as empty.
It was later revealed that the anti-Morsi areas were usually packed — Al-Jazeera just showed them at the times of day that they were empty.
Then came the killing of more than 50 pro-Morsi demonstrators by Egyptian security forces. Some Al-Jazeera reports initially said the number was in the hundreds.
The military later held a press conference on the killings. An Al-Jazeera correspondent was booed out of the room by other reporters.
For Haggag Salama, who had freelanced for Al-Jazeera for 10 years, the misreporting of the number of slain protesters was the last straw. He called another local TV station and announced his resignation on air.
Salama says Al-Jazeera had no sources and exaggerated the numbers to favor the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the days that followed, reports surfaced that some 20 more Al-Jazeera employees had quit — although at least one might have been a fake and others now say they will probably go back.
Media watchers say it's important to stress the difference between Al-Jazeera Live Egypt, Al-Jazeera Arabic and Al-Jazeera English. The latter is the channel most well-known in the U.S., and Al-Jazeera English correspondents maintain their coverage is unbiased.
They also say part of what's happening in Egypt is a witch hunt by some Egyptians who are now rabidly anti-Morsi and anti-Muslim Brotherhood. Other Islamist channels have been closed down since Morsi's ouster.
Posters around Cairo show Al-Jazeera's logo in red with a bloody hand scratching at it. A bullet can kill a man, the poster says, but a lying camera can kill a nation.
Either way, the Al-Jazeera name has taken a hit, says Marwan Kraidy, who studies Arab media at the University of Pennsylvania. And it's time for the network to do some soul-searching.
"There might be some room for changing," Kraidy says. "And I do hope that that does happen. Because otherwise ... you're running what's truly an internationally unique institution that had its moment of brilliance into the ground."
Al-Jazeera's loss of credibility also reflects a loss of credibility for its main backer, Qatar.
Talk-show host Bassem Yousef, who is often described as the Jon Stewart of Egypt, recently mocked Qatar's backing of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, with songs and flags and costumes.
Kraidy says now that Morsi has been deposed, Qatar lost more than face.
"In addition to several billion dollars that they had invested in Mr. Morsi and his government in aid, they really lost a lot of influence in what remains a very, very major country," Kraidy says.
The new emir of Qatar, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who took power just last month, will now have to decide whether he wants to reshape Al-Jazeera, his country's best-known brand name, Kraidy says.
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